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My two-year-old daughter has significant allergies (dairy, egg, wheat/gluten and peanut) and she's been significantly underweight for the past year (10th percentile). We've had her on a special diet and formula to get her weight gain up and it's helped a lot.

We've always had an issue with her seeing our food and wanting to eat it. Her diet is also quite limited and she's very interested in our food and I've always felt so bad she can't have any of ours. We have usually tried to eat things she can't have when she's not around. This has meant we've eaten apart from her quite a lot, something that doesn't sit well with me. I really treasure the family mealtimes I had as a child (even though I didn't as much at the time) and I would like that too with my family.

We would like to introduce a family suppertime where we sit and eat together, and we tried today but she got really upset and wanted to eat our food instead of her own. We have our own dietary needs that are somewhat in conflict with hers (my husband is diabetic) and it's not really possible to eat only foods that are safe for her for supper.

I want to do a family mealtime, but I also understand that it may not be something she is able to understand, or it is unfair on her to expect her to not eat what we eat. Is there anyway we can go about introducing this in a manner that is easiest on her?

(I don't want to punish her for wanting to eat our food, or anything like that, I try to stick to positive discipline as much as possible and want to respect her and her autonomy and wishes as much as possible).

  • You may want to clarify in the question if you are, or are specifically not, open to frame challenges (meaning, answers that say "don't do this"); we don't allow them on Parenting by default, but this kind of question will likely attract frame challenges. If you're open to that, please clarify; if not, it's a good idea to be explicit that you don't want to be told not to do this, to avoid attracting those answers. Thanks! – Joe May 18 at 21:48
  • @Joe yes I'm open to frame challenges, if you think it's a bad idea then I'm open to other suggestions. – stan May 19 at 8:51
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One thing that has worked well for me with my middle child who has many food allergies is serving something that is a little bit 'everyone makes their own' like a salad bar or taco bar. So while everyone is having tacos, those who can eat black beans have black beans and those who cannot don't.

This may meet your daughter's desire to eat the same thing you are eating while also accommodating your daughter's and husband's differing food needs.

In addition, you say you tried it that one day. Toddlers can take time to get used to a new routine. She may adjust to family dinner time with different dinners after a few tries, even if the first couple of times are rough.

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These family mealtimes you now fondly look back at, are not memories from when you were two years old. Consider if this is a goal you can postpone until your child is old enough to reason about these things, and perhaps (I don't know if this is applicable to you) outgrow some of her allergies.

Besides, if the value of these mealtimes was to come together and connect around a shared activity, consider that even if you manage to get your child to accept the special diet, you may not achieve that goal in exactly this manner since not all family members can partake equally in this activity. Perhaps what should be your family's equivalence of what mealtime was to you growing up, is something else entirely, that doesn't revolve around eating. Identify what it really is you value in this mealtime ideal, and question if eating is really imperative to that, or if you can find substitute fixed family rituals.

I note you have medical reasons not to adapt to your child's dietary needs altogether, but I still think it's worthwhile to go as far as you possibly can to make your child feel included. Of course your child will want to eat what you eat, and she's too young for any intellectual discussion to really take hold (I think she's old enough to reason with about these matters, but she'll still desire what you eat, and that desire will thwart her reasoning). Consider if your husband is in a better position to settle for a special diet from what everyone else is having, than to expect this of your two year old.

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If the dietary needs of your husband and your daughter are at odds, could you arrange it so that (it appears that) everyone at the table has their own very special meal?

That way, nobody is singled out that they eat something different from the rest.

And if your daughter still wants to occasionally eat some bites from your or your husband's plate, try to have some components in the meal that can be eaten by anyone and share those, or politely decline if that is not possible (or those components were already eaten).

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My four-year-old daughter was the same as your daughter: eager to have our food. This is what we did:

  1. Introduce every new dish to her (Same will be bored)

  2. Don't restrict her on touching food; instead allow her to feel the food in a lower quantity.

  3. The food we prepare should not harm her and she shouldn't be allergic to it in any way

  4. Supper time is the best time to pray and be together, where the bond gets stronger. Introduce her to supper time.

  5. Young kids can be allergic to some types of food, but later when they grow they won't have allergies at all.

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